A friend recently suggested I check out Tim Urban’s new book, “What’s Our Problem: A Self Help Book for Societies.” Its impact was chilling because it touched upon a critically important and ominous topic: the silencing of free speech by those with differing views.
The book was written by a left-wing progressive whose perspectives might seem unlikely to resonate with me. But the author’s observations and assessments resonated.
The popular blogger-turned-author explores some of the most worrisome trends that we are seeing in this country, including increased partisanship and a lowering of the intellectual bar.
Urban also does a good job of introducing an interesting concept where political thinking isn’t plotted along an x-y linear axis but extends up vertically as well. The extremes he discusses are not just far-left and far-right but low-rung and high-rung thinking.
It’s a compelling way of explaining how our country has been dragged down by people on both sides. Factions are cheapening public discourse and making it less about the arguments and a free marketplace of ideas and more about being beholden to the most extreme viewpoints.
Times are changing and not for the better. Years ago, Washington, D.C., was a place where legislators could disagree vehemently on the right path forward for this country and still be able to maintain friendships with those who held opposing views. The two sides could agree to disagree. No more.
I have always maintained deep and abiding friendships with people whose political philosophies and views differed from my own. I have always been happy to engage in debate and discussion based on the merits of an argument. I never took our differences to heart. But increasingly, the free marketplace of ideas in America is being shut down by those who want to drown out everyone who does not fall into line with the loudest and most strident voices.
At the end of the day, I believe most Americans want to live in a country where we can openly debate issues and share beliefs—a country that celebrates the free exchange of ideas and thoughts so the best policies and philosophies can prevail. But that does not appear where we are headed.
Urban’s book warns very clearly against the nefarious influence that extremists are having in our colleges, universities, and schools. Take the recent student mob victory at Stanford Law School in March when a crowd of students shouted down a conservative U.S. judge because they disagreed with his stance on several social issues. The judge had been invited to present at the school, but was unable to speak due to students’ heckling.
Nothing is more un-American than imposing a specific viewpoint on others with little regard to the other person’s standing or failing to even respect their right to express themselves. This is being done every day by a group Urban refers to as the social justice fundamentalists.
Neither politics, current events, nor personal choices should be a zero-sum game where you are either on our side or you are not.
Urban’s book also does an excellent job of explaining shocking developments in our educational system, where an orthodox viewpoint, highly slanted to the far left, is forced upon students, largely due to a lack of diversity in terms of viewpoint and one-sided political leanings among professors. True learning must come from all corners. We have to be unafraid to challenge students’ thinking and always be willing to open our minds and consider new information.
Studies have repeatedly shown that our campuses have become more stridently partisan. To that point, Urban recounts numerous examples of teachers who feel completely silenced and afraid to speak their minds or to share any perspectives that run counter to a hard-left radical viewpoint.
In fact, part of what makes this book so compelling is that the author is a lifelong Progressive who takes issue with some of the very illiberal tactics being used by those who profess to champion liberal values.
It is a scary state of affairs anywhere, but particularly in America. Urban’s book highlights where we are, and paints a picture of where we should be and what it will take to get there.
The author simplifies complex arguments in ways that are relatable and understandable, whether you lean to left or right. However, I suspect it will be the high-rung thinkers who will get the most out of this book. The low-rung thinkers who may be quick to dismiss it and pay it no heed. Which is really the point.